“It wasn’t as though the farm hadn’t seen death before…”

The Dry by Jane Harper

This was another pick-off-the-shelves-at-the-bookstore book. I had this book sitting on my bookshelf for a while and I can’t say for sure when and where I actually bought it. I suspect it was when we were still living in Sydney, the second time around.

That’s what happens with books you buy, isn’t it? You put off reading them because they are always there. You read the library books and Bookclub books first, because those actually have a deadline. Personally I find I have that attitude with everything else in my life: if I’m sure it’s going to be sticking around, I tend to neglect it for something else that is only temporary.

On to the book. This was another gripping novel for me. I wanted to read it every free moment I had. It obviously had a great hook and there was a double mystery. A double whodunit. And true to a whodunit novel, we were led in various directions through out the novel as the story unfolded and the secrets of a small town came tumbling out.

While I really enjoyed reading this book, I was a bit annoyed at how obvious the writer’s attempt to lead us astray was. When I read these whodunit novels now, I end up comparing them to Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie. That was a whodunit novel that really had me guessing, but the guiding hand of the author was not so obvious then.

One of my favourite things about this novel was how Harper brought attention to some serious issues faced by Australia by weaving them into an entertaining crime novel. Drought and domestic abuse. I feel that she did this without “preaching” on these issues, which is a method I prefer when I read novels. Perhaps we can attribute this method of story-telling to her journalistic background: report the facts and leave your personal opinions out of it. I like reading authors who can do this as I feel free to formulate my own opinions rather than finding myself hating the dictating voice of the author. A clear example I can think of is The Ballad of Banjo Crossing by Tess Evans, another book I read recently. In Banjo Crossing, I constantly found myself curling my lip at the tone of the author. Some of the beliefs Evans held felt like it was forcefully being crammed down my throat. It annoyed me.

Reading about a farming town in Australia and the fallout from two years of drought made me consider things I have never consider before. The entire town suffers, and not just industry, but everything. The school can run out of money. Doctors and other essential professionals can leave. It’s truly terrifying the effects drought can have on farming towns. I feel humbled learning this from this novel. I like how the drought was made a real villain in this novel.

As for characters–I liked them. I kept seeing the lead agent from Criminal Minds (also named Aaron) as Falk. But this is really only because both are named Aaron and both are federal police. The characters felt real to me.

I would absolutely read another book by Harper. In fact I’ve already looked up the second book in the Falk series.

Re-read material: I would not read this book a second time, mostly because what I found gripping was the plot, and not exactly the language. It was not poorly written, but it’s not poetic, which it obviously doesn’t have to be. I just don’t think there’s much need to re-read a whodunit novel when you already know who’s actually “dun it”.

“Jasper Jones has come to my window.”

Jasper Jones by Craig Silvey

Absolutely amazing book. This one is a library book I found featured at the Burnside Library during one of our toy runs (they have a massive toy library for toddlers).

One of the first things I usually do when I move to a new town is to sign up for a library card. I have a bit of an obsession with libraries. It could be because my very first ID card as a child was a library card from school and our local library. I have always loved books, and being in a library felt like home-coming. There is nothing that soothes me more than being surrounded by walls and shelves of just books.

The library was always a gateway to other worlds for me. An endless well of information just sitting there, waiting for me to drink from its depths.

I love libraries.

Onto Jasper Jones. This is easily one of my favourite books of all time in any genre. The last time I fell in love with a book so utterly and completely was on my second reading of One Day by David Nicholls. With Jasper Jones, the infatuation was immediate and the fall itself was an incredible adventure.

The book its a good mix of coming-to-age story and crime thriller. The story is told from the point of view of Charlie Bucktin, a teenage boy growing up in a small town in 1960’s Australia. It reminds me a lot of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain. The narrator himself even refers multiple times to works of Twain. Many of the same themes found in Twain’s work is reflected in Jasper Jones, such as racism and small town bigotry.

Another aspect of the novel I enjoyed was the description of cricket. I didn’t really understand cricket before I read this book, and maybe I still don’t fully understand it–but I sure am a lot more interested in cricket now after having experienced the passion for it from Silvey’s well-developed characters.

Overall this story had a very balanced mix of action and exposition. Charlie was a very intelligent and thoughtful character. He was very loveable even though he was fallible. His father was the perfect “hero”, and I very much love the relationship Charlie has with his father. He is aware that his father is human, yet he still hopes for great acts of valour and would sometimes be disappointed. Their relationship portrays a very heart-warming example of the love between a father and a son.

All of the main characters were well-done. They all seemed very real to me and not once did I question a motive. Their reactions and behaviours seemed true to themselves and that made for a very believable story.

Lastly, the dialogue. Oh the dialogue. The repertoire between Charlie and his good friends back and forth were hilarious and seemed to me very accurate of teenage boy talk in 1960’s. The dialogue is what makes me wish this story could be a screen play for a movie. I’d watch the hell out of this movie. My husband is currently reading it and he’ll be able to confirm this better as he himself was a teenage boy.

I absolutely would re-read this book again, and I absolutely recommend it. I kept gushing about it to my husband until he’s started reading it too–and he’s loving it so far.

“Lale tries not to look up.”

The Tattoist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris

This is a Bookclub book, so one that I normally would not have picked to read for myself. I did enjoy it much more than I thought I would. Unfortunately we were not able to actually discuss the book once we met up as 3 out of the 6 of us hadn’t actually read the book.

Obviously the Holocaust is not something that makes for an “enjoyable” read, but I could not put this book down. The narrator drew me in, and it was a straight forward account of what happened to a young Jewish man who is sent to Auschwitz during WWII and, through twists of fortune, became the Tattooist–a relatively “respected” position at the camps.

What I like best: it describes and outlines very depressing situations without over dramaticising them. I found that the account of this man was that much more real to me because of how this story was told.

What I like least: Nothing. There is nothing I would change about this book.

While the atrocities of the Holocaust was something that I was already exposed to through school and general cultural references, I don’t think I ever actually read a first hand account of someone who’s lived through it. Reading this man’s words and all that he thought of what was going on around him–it taught me so much about human resilience, empathy, and kindness.

My favourite part: when the prisoners moo’ed on their first night in their block. They were being treated like animals and somehow found the humour in that. Either that or there was simply no other reaction they could have.

I would, and have, recommend this book to anyone, whether they were a serious reader or not. I think 60 years is a long enough time for people to have forgotten what can happen when one man wields absolute power over a nation.

“Competence can be a curse.”

Free Food for Millionaires by Min Jin Lee. 

This is the first book I finished in 2019. It’s also the first book review I am doing in this reworked version of an old website.

When I’m looking for a next book to read, I usually read the very first line and I go off of my first instinct. If the first line grabs me, I will read that book and finish it, regardless of how much it sucks afterwards.

Free Food did not suck. It was a delight to read.

I found the book at Tea House Books in Denmark, Western Australia during our most recent Christmas visit home. The bookstore itself has gone through a couple of different owners since the very first time I visited in 2010. I always liked browsing through small town bookshops because, unlike big city bookshops, they usually only have one copy of a book on display. It gives me the feeling that I’m getting a “one of a kind” book, even though that can’t possibly be the case.

Free Food  drew me in because the background of the main character was relatable to me. The MC, Casey, was a second generation immigrant in New York whose Korean parents were hard-working but strict. Overall the story was believable and interesting. I wanted to read the book to the end mainly because I wanted to find out what became of Casey.

The ending was not anything glorious, but satisfactory. The various storylines introduced with the cast of characters were all wrapped up pretty well, so there were no disappointing loose ends.

Free Food was set in New York City in the 1980’s and 1990’s. It was interesting to read about New York banker culture and how immigrant life melded with that.

Apart from Casey, there was a large cast of characters involved. The point of view switched between various characters so each of them were sympathetic in their own way; I got to really understand a character’s motivations and empathize, even if the character’s actions were not likable.

If I had to describe the novel in one sentence: It is a story about a girl’s struggle with self-identity and loving herself in a setting where she was taught conflicting ideas at home and out in the world.

The book was written in a way that read smoothly. The language and dialogue were elegant and that set the tone of the story.

I wouldn’t necessarily recommend this book to any serious readers as it’s one of those books that is fun and interesting to read, but not life-changing. For me it would be a casual beach novel and not something I would read again a second time, even though I did enjoy it the first time round.